Rabbi Amy Joy Small Asks: ‘Is it Necessary to Believe in God to be Jewish?’

Rabbi Amy Joy Small, founder of Deborah’s Palm Center for Jewish Learning & Experiences in Morristown, will lead a provocative three-part series for Our Jewish World called “Is It Necessary to Believe in God to Be Jewish?” The classes, which are free of charge, will be held Monday, Dec. 1, at 1 p.m.; Wednesday, Dec. 10, at noon; and Monday, Dec. 22, at noon, all at the Morris County Library, 30 E. Hanover Ave., in Whippany. Our Jewish World is coordinated by Ellen Nesson and Melanie Levitan.

Rabbi Amy headshot

Preregistration for all these classes is required. Space is limited, and reservations will be taken on a first come, first served basis. To preregister for Rabbi Small’s seminars, email melanielevitan@gmail.com.

Rabbi Small points out that it is not uncommon today for people to call themselves “spiritual” but not “religious.” She adds, “The language of our prayer book and the stories of the Bible speak about God in supernatural, personal ways that have come to feel alien to many people in our day. After the Holocaust and so many more violent episodes, even within our lifetime, it is hard to imagine that God rewards and punishes for good and bad behavior, or that a loving, compassionate God could let such evil and suffering abound. Many people say that they ‘don’t believe in God’—and they really mean they don’t believe in the supernatural God they find when they open our classical Jewish texts.”

Among the questions the rabbi will address in her series are:

  • How does Judaism address the question of evil and suffering in the context of a belief in God? Are there other ways to imagine a belief in God without the supernatural, personal images of our texts? This is an exploration of God language and the range of theologies within Judaism.
  • How has our tradition addressed the challenge of faith throughout the ages? Surely this is not the first time in history when questions of faith have been prominent among us. How have our people adapted their beliefs in the past?
  • What is the meaning of “spirituality” as opposed to faith or belief in God? Can we have one without the others?

This series will explore the variety of God concepts in Judaism; the ancient and modern quest for faith and for evolving beliefs; and the real link between spirituality and faith.

Rabbi Small created Deborah’s Palm Center in 2014 to help Jews and fellow seekers access the riches of Jewish tradition for meaningful spiritual living. Her passion is helping others find their way through the enduring heritage of Jewish learning and living.

The rabbi, who has served congregations in New Jersey, Michigan and Indiana, is a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, where she served on the board for many years. She is a fellow of Rabbis Without Borders and a senior rabbinic fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and a Storahtelling Maven. She is the board president of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and serves on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.

Diversity Contest Awards Ceremony

NBC 4 New York’s weekend anchor David Ushery, the creator of “The Debrief with David Ushery,” gave an inspiring keynote address at the Awards Ceremony for our sixth-grade diversity contest, “What Prejudice Means to Me.”

“The National Council of Jewish Women, West Morris Section, is planting seeds for a better world, starting with a contest like this,” he said. “It’s heartwarming to see the extraordinary artwork and writing of these young people. I’m so proud of you sixth-graders.”BC 4 New York’s weekend anchor David Ushery, the creator of “The Debrief with David Ushery,” gave an inspiring keynote address at the Awards Ceremony for our sixth-grade diversity contest, “What Prejudice Means to Me.”

The guest speaker noted that he would like to say there are fewer barriers today than years ago, but the stories of the young women kidnapped in Nigeria and the Los Angeles Clippers owner’s racist remarks have triggered a discussion about this issue, which is still with us to this day. Ushery told the story of his 98-year-old uncle who served in World War II and became a Pullman car porter: “My uncle took his family from Mississippi to the West Coast because racism was so vicious in the South.”

“Some people make judgments about us before they know us. That’s not right,” Ushery said. Speaking directly to the students, he added, “You demonstrated that you understand that.”

He commended the “wonderful parents and teachers” who “made sure the students participated in this contest,” adding, “We want to reinforce the message that what really matters when faced with stories of prejudice is our reaction to those stories and the actions we take.”

Parents, teachers, school administrators, and the student honorees were also thrilled to meet the speaker. Coordinating the contest is Karen Secular.

Photo credit: Stella Hart Public Relations/Jennifer Costa

Rafael, Haley, Eileen, David, Marilyn

(From left) Rafael Stankiewicz, Haley Liu, and Eileen Helck, all grand prize-winners from Madison Junior School, receive congratulations from Awards Ceremony special guest speaker David Ushery and NCJW, West Morris volunteer Marilyn Semer. The displays boards created by Rhonda Goldberger are behind them.


(From left) David Ushery congratulates the grand prize-winners in the NCJW, West Morris Section’s sixth-grade diversity contest “What Prejudice Means to Me,” Rafael Stankiewicz, Haley Liu, and Eileen Helck, all students at Madison Junior School and all grand-prize winners for written work; and Melissa Wright and Steven Aarons, both students at Robert R. Lazar Middle School in Montville and both grand-prize winners for artwork.


(From left) David Ushery, Marco Mangano of Robert R. Lazar Middle School, and Susan Neigher, co-president of NCJW, West Morris Section

Fascinating Program on ‘Eliminate Poverty Now’

Our member Judy Craig and her husband John founded Eliminate Poverty Now in 2010 with the goal of creating economic opportunity for the extreme poor in Africa, especially women. Our Section, together with the Temple B’nai Or Sisterhood/Women’s Network, heard a fascinating talk about this initiative.

The “extreme poor” is not just a descriptive term. The precise definition is people who live on less than $1 per day. Sadly, over 1 billion people fall into that category, and Africa is home to the largest percentage of them. Eliminate Poverty Now empowers these people by providing knowledge and opportunity to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. “Most of our work is in rural areas because that’s where most of the extreme poor live. And most of it is agricultural because that’s the principal activity in the countryside,” John says.

The Craigs highlighted the work they’re doing in Niger, the poorest country on earth. Most of the country lies in the Sahara Desert. Eighty percent of its 15 million people farm rain-fed crops for their survival. In such arid conditions, and with drought now occurring in two years out of every five, they are at constant risk of starvation.

“Our main project there is to introduce modern agricultural practices using irrigation as the foundation,” John noted. “We partner with a world-famous Israeli agricultural scientist, one of the team that developed drip irrigation technology to make the Negev bloom. In fact, the entire leadership team for our project is Jewish, while the country is 96% Muslim.” In addition to sharing details about this ambitious project, he pointed out that they have surprisingly warm relationships we have with the people there despite the religious differences.


Eliminate Poverty Now: At a joint meeting of our Section, and the Temple B’nai Or Sisterhood, held at the synagogue, members of both groups heard a fascinating talk by John and Judy Craig, the founders of Eliminate Poverty Now, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating extreme poverty in Africa. Judy is an NCJW, West Morris member. (from left) Susan Neigher, co-president of our Section; Karen Lilienfeld and Vivian Gibilisco, co-presidents of the Temple B’nai Or Sisterhood; Judy and John Craig; and Nadine Milberg, a Temple B’nai Or Sisterhood vice president.

Our Mission

The National Council of Jewish Women is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.

Bestselling Author to Keynote Paid-Up Nov. 16



Highlighting our Paid-Up Membership Brunch this year will be Kimberly McCreight, the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel as well as an Alex Award. The event, which is free for all paid-up members, will be held at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 16, at a private home in Morristown. Prospective members may join the organization that morning.

Called Entertainment Weekly’s Favorite Book of the Year, Reconstructing Amelia was one of CNN’s Reader Favorites for 2013, a finalist for Goodreads Best Mystery of the Year and a Book Club pick for Target, Books-a-Million and Indigo. Reconstructing Amelia has also been optioned for film by HBO and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films. Kimberly lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.

About Reconstructing Amelia

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is shocked when her daughter’s exclusive Brooklyn private school calls to tell her that Amelia–her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old–has been caught cheating. But when Kate arrives at Grace Hall, she’s blindsided by far more devastating news: Amelia is dead. Despondent, she’s jumped from the school’s roof. At least that’s what Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. It’s what she believes, too, until she gets the anonymous text: Amelia didn’t jump. Now, Kate is going to find the truth—no matter where it leads. Sifting through Amelia’s e-mails, text messages, and Facebook posts, Kate reconstructs the pieces of her daughter’s life and the people in it, uncovering why she was on Grace Hall’s roof that day–and how she died.

 Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, friends and bullies. It’s about how well any parent really knows their child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.


RSVP to stellahart@optimum.net.